In the play at Stagecrafters, Neena Boyle plays Olivia de Havilland, now 100, who had a 53-year career in Hollywood movies (1935 to 1988). Her sister was movie star Joan Fontaine.

By Rita Charleston

Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, “Shakespeare in Hollywood” by playwright Ken Ludwig premiered in Washington D.C. in 2003 and won the Helen Hayes award for Best New Play of the Year.

In Ludwig’s play, now being presented by the Stagecrafters Theatre, 8130 Germantown Ave. on weekends through June 25, the year is 1934, and Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is being formed on the soundstage at Warner Brothers Studios. Suddenly the Bard’s famed characters Oberon and Puck, in their magical wanderings, find themselves smack in the middle of the action. Taken by the novelty of the place and mistaken for actors, the two join the cast to “play” themselves. And as they become smitten with the glittering magic of moviedom, wacky comedy ensues, with poetry and romance thrown in for good measure.

The original movie, directed by Max Reinhardt, starred such luminaries as James Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Joe E. Brown, Dick Powell and Olivia de Havilland, among others. All the actors, with the exception of de Havilland, keep their original names in the play, with de Havilland in Ludwig’s play being named Olivia Darnell and played by Neena Boyle.

“Because de Havilland is the only actor still alive (turned 100 on July 1, 2016), I believe Ken changed her name so as not to cause any embarrassment or upset to her,” said Boyle, who was born in Baltimore. A 25-year-old graduate of the University of the Arts with a degree in Acting and Musical Theatre, Boyle said she’s finally found her place here. She’s appeared at such theaters as the Walnut Street and Candlelight Theaters, and this is her third play performed at The Stagecrafters.

“Stagecrafters was one of the first places I got to work once I graduated, so this is a very special place for me. Every time I do a play here, it’s like coming home again. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s like a family to me, and it’s great to be coming home again.”

And, Boyle adds, this is a very special play for her to perform. “This is a fun play and a fun character. It’s great fun to look behind the play and examine the original filming. This was the first play de Havilland was ever in, so she’s very green and a little innocent but facing a very exciting role. I watched the original movie to get a feeling of how she moved. So I try to bring her to life as best I can while putting my own spin on the character.”

Today, Boyle considers herself extremely lucky. “Why? Honestly, because I’m never not on stage. It’s how I make my living. I think of myself as an actor, and all the jobs I have done and still do have been acting.”

Although she doesn’t feel qualified to give advice to others, the one thing she will say is that persistence is the key to making it in this business. “And if you’re as lucky as I have been, you’ll find some place like Stagecrafters, a place that’s always producing great work and always having something there for you. You know, they say you’ll go far if you meet the right people. But what they don’t say is that all people are the right people.”

For times and ticket information call 215-247-9913. A review of “Shakespeare in Hollywood” can be found on www.chestnuthilllocal.com

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